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The Mourning St. John the Evangelist with two male figures (fragment of a crucifixion from a portable altarpiece)

Embriachi Workshop, Venice, Italy

Artwork Details

The Mourning St. John the Evangelist with two male figures (fragment of a crucifixion from a portable altarpiece)
circa 1400
Embriachi Workshop, Venice, Italy
4 11/16 in. x 1 15/16 in. x 1 in. ( 11.9 cm x 5 cm x 2.6 cm )
Presented in memory of Rosalie Eisenberg


March 28, 2009
These small sculptures are evidence of an ingenious response to the growing middle-class demand for religious imagery during the later Middle Ages. These figures, accompanied by other mourners and soldiers, would have formed a Crucifixion scene in a small domestic altarpiece. They were carved from humble bone rather than exotic and expensive ivory by artists in the Venetian workshop of Baldassare degli Embriachi, who was probably more entrepreneur than artist. By employing prefabricated, modular components and inexpensive materials, the Embriachi workshop could mass-produce altarpieces—along with caskets, mirror backs, and combs—at affordable prices for a wider, less affluent clientele.

Subject Matter:

This diminutive sculpture of St. John the Evangelist in mourning together with its companion piece depicting the Virgin Mary (1976/2.102) once formed part of a Crucifixion scene in a small portable altarpiece. The partition of the larger scene into a number of smaller components, each with a few standing figures confined within a narrow vertical format, was dictated by the shape and small size of the bones on which these images were carved. The availability of bone made these products less expensive than comparable works in ivory, an economic advantage that contributed to the success of the large Venetian Embriachi workshop, which manufactured numerous altarpieces, mirror cases, and small boxes during the late fourteenth and early fifteenth century.

Physical Description:

This carved bone sculpture depicts John the Evangelist in profile with his hands held before him, bowing his head in mourning. A male figure wearing a knee-length robe stands on the right and holds a club in his left hand. A second male figure appears behind the saint in a similar pose of grief.

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